Hey branders: the question is now settled. Let’s move on.
It’s one of the most frequent – and maddeningly circular – question that every brand manager faces: what the heck is a brand? Well, sorry brand voodoo practitioners, the argument is over. Toronto adman Terry O’Reilly has come up with the last definition anyone needs. Read on.
So let’s have it: what is a brand?
I’m getting there. But this is hard for me. I’m a branding guy. And most days, those of us who DO branding professionally don’t want to think about the core of what we do. It’s just a brand okay?
I mean, would you ask a fund manager or a product manager “what’s a fund?” or “what’s a product?”
But it turns out the question isn’t so simple to non-branders; and it turns out how we branders answer that question dramatically changes how we approach branding as a discipline. So listen closely: if a brander says “a brand is a consumer product,” or “a logo,” or “a trade name,” or “a mark on a cow” you can bet they are going to approach the process of shaping your brand in very different – and potentially painful – ways.
Or imagine a branding consultant starting your exercise with this blustery explanation from Wikipedia:
Brand is the personality that identifies a product, service or company (name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or combination of them) and how it relates to key constituencies: Customers, Staff, Partners, Investors etc. Some people distinguish the psychological aspect, brand associations like thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and so on that become linked to the brand, of a brand from the experiential aspect…
Now if I were a less ethical man, I’d charge you $10,000(+tax and expenses) for what you just read there – and give you a bunch of baffling charts, voodoo incantations, and my patented Magic Brand Mood Watch ™. But that’s not how I roll.
Besides, Terry O’Reilly has now made all that unnecessary.
Branding in the Age of Persuasion
Terry O’Reilly is well known in Canada as the host of his brilliant CBC radio series The Age of Persuasion – and deserves to be well known around the world. He also blogs at terryoreilly.ca, and, with his long-time collaborator Mike Tennant, has written a mind-blowingly useful and entertaining book The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture.
And while the whole book is awesome, the one sentence below changed my life:
Branding is at the core of all marketing. Different marketers have their own take on what branding really is, but to me, it means defining what a product or service promises and how it differs from the competition. (emphasis added – full excerpt here)
There you have it. Done. I’ll give you a minute for your world to stop rocking on its very foundations before I go on to talk about…
The two parts of what a brand is:
Part 1: “what a product or service promises”
The idea of brand as promise is not new. A lot of respected brand gurus definitions begin and end with this idea – just look at the Google search for “a brand is a promise”. I’ve used it myself. It captures nicely the sense of a brand as a meeting place between the expectations your customers have, and the work that you do to set and meet those expectations.
Great, but what if everyone else is promising the same? That’s where part two of O’Reilly’s definition comes in:
Part 2: “how it differs from the competition”
Ah that lovely lovely word “differ”. For a brand to exist and serve a purpose for customers, it has to both 1) make a concrete, credible promise and 2) create a meaningful, memorable impression that gives people a reason to choose one product over another.
So, what do you think?
Are we right here? Is this the ultimate, game changing formula for you too? Let us know.